Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Dumb American's Guide to Living on Okinawa Part 4: Getting Lost

A lot of Americans stationed on Okinawa are afraid to explore off-base for numerous reasons. Language barrier. Strange food. Being attacked by winged Habu and teleporting cone snails. But by far the most common complaint is the fear of getting lost.

Folks. The island is less than 70 miles long. It's 18 miles across at its very widest point.

I cannot emphasize this enough:

It is impossible to get lost on Okinawa.

Now, can you wind up somewhere and have no clue where you are? Of course. But if you drive long enough, you'll either get to a highway or water. You might have to drive in circles a bit, you might not know where you are, but with a little patience, you'll find your way back to something familiar. Trust me: you can't get lost here.

That said, Okinawa is a great place to get Lost. That's Lost with the capital L. The good kind of Lost that I think more people should try, because the more Lost you get here, the more cool shit you find.


Here's how to get Lost on Okinawa.

You'll need:
  1. A car with a full tank of gas. Gas is significantly more expensive off-base. Fill up before you go out.
  2. Yen. Because Visa is everywhere you want to be...unless you want to be on Okinawa. I recommend a minimum of Y5000 (About $50-70, depending on the ever-fluctuating exchange rate at the time). That's typically enough for admission fees, tolls, the odd souvenir, lunch, and munchies at Family Mart for two people. If you want to do some shopping and maybe get some dinner, then Y10000 to Y15000 is your best bet. Whatever you do...bring yen.
  3. One coin. Can be U.S. or Japanese. Doesn't matter.
  4. A camera. Never leave base without a camera. You will regret it when you see something cool.
  5. A map. Preferably one that's in English and non-laminated.
  6. A Japanese-English phrase book. Self-explanatory.
Got everything you need? Okay. Let's get Lost.

Step 1:

Got your coin handy? Excellent. Now flip it. FLIP IT GOOD.

Tails: North. Heads: South.

Now flip it again.

Tails: Hwy 58. Heads: Hwy 329.

This is your jumping off point. Based on the results of le toss du coin (I clearly don't speak French), you know which direction you're headed and on which highway.

Step 2:

Get out your map. This is your invaluable guide to making sure you can navigate Okinawa like a freaking pro. With this in your hot little hands, you will know exactly where you're going, how to get there, how to get back, and what else is around your destination or along the way.

Got your map in your hot little hands?


Now rip it to little tiny pieces. Tear that sucker up. We're making map confetti here, so don't hold back.

What? What? Why the hell am I having you rip up your map?

Because where we're going, we don't need no stinking map.

Step 3:

Grab your yen and your camera, get in your fully-fueled car, and get thee to the road that the Flipping Coin of Fate(tm) selected for you in step 1. Point thy car in the direction dictated by said coin. Accelerate mightily and begin your adventure.

Step 4:

Realize you left your Japanese-English phrase book on the kitchen table beside the pile of map confetti.

Step 5:

Keep driving anyway.

Step 6:

Find a side street and turn. Doesn't matter which direction. Can be out in the country or in the city or in one of the many villages. Paved, unpaved. One-lane, two-lane. Maybe even one of the alleys that is so narrow you have to fold in your side mirrors (there's a reason most Japanese cars have a button that folds/unfolds your mirrors). Word to the wise: Take it easy on these side roads. They are generally pretty narrow, and they're usually two-way. If another car comes around the bend (and there are many bends), it kinda helps if you're not going 60 km/h.

Congratulations...you are now LOST.

This is where the fun begins.

Drive. Just drive. If something looks interesting, stop and check it out.

Because you might find a place like this:
Or this...
Or a hiking trail through a place like this...
Maybe even a little establishment like this...
(FYI: That's a glass bottom boat)

Maybe a place to sink your toes into the sand...
Or the ruins of a castle...
Sometimes it's the little things...
Every single one of those pictures was taken in a place my husband and I stumbled across. Either we'd made a wrong turn while looking for something, or we'd just gone out driving all willy-nilly, but we didn't know those places even existed until we found them.

And when you do stumble across something? Take pictures, because while it's impossible to get truly lost on Okinawa, it can also be really, really hard to find things like this again. So take a photo before you leave, because it may be the last time you find it!

There you have it, folks. You can't really get lost, you have nothing to lose, so...

Go out and get Lost.


  1. Hehe. We were on Okinawa when I was a kid (early 1970s) when my folks piled us all in the car to go exploring. We started in Buckner and made our way down to Naha, then didn't know how to get back. Everyone said "just take Highway 1" (which we couldn't find). My Mom spotted a sign saying "Sanyo #1", and proclaimed "Look, that must be Highway 1". We followed the signs all the way home (happy coincidence, that)